Did you hear the big news? Jesus is coming back THIS Saturday. At least, that’s what one self-proclaimed Bible prophet wants you to believe.

According to Harold Camping, of the California based Family Radio Network (FRN), the Bible contains an enigmatic set of clues which indicates the date of Jesus’ return to earth. That date? May 21, 2011.

Camping is not only convinced that the Bible gives the time for the rapture, but that it also gives a countdown to doomsday. He says that the world, as we know it, will be destroyed by God just 5 months later. May 21 will be the rapture of about 200 million saints (his estimate). October 21 will be the once-and-for-all end of the world.

Not only has Camping been spreading his predictions via his radio broadcast and website, his organization has plastered the American countryside with hundreds of billboards with messages like, “Jesus is Coming May 21!” and “Noah Knew! WeCanKnow.com.”

Camping’s end-times predictions raise some rather interesting questions. Where, in the Bible, does he get this idea? And, could Harold Camping be right?

Here is the briefest (and hopefully fairest) summary that I can give of Camping’s claims…

Using a rather tedious logic and his own imaginative brand of exegesis, Camping claims that our modern calendar and the events of the Bible can be aligned with precision. (He details this in his work Adam When?) Accordingly, he claims that Noah’s flood happened in 4990BC. After the ark was built, God warned Noah that “after seven more days, I will send rain.” (Gen 7:4) With this statement in view, Camping then skips forward and interprets Gen 7:4 in light of 2 Peter which says, “with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years.” (2 Pet 3:8) Thus, he claims, if you count forward 7,000 years from 4990BC (subtracting one year, since there was no year “0”), you are left with the year 2011. Just as God warned Noah that His watery judgment was coming in seven days, now we know that His final judgment is arriving precisely 7,000 years later. Hence, Camping’s tagline, “Noah knew. We can too.”

While I don’t have the space (nor the desire) to dismantle every detail of Camping’s bizarre interpretation of Scripture, I do want to point out a few things. In case you have heard Camping yourself (or know someone who has) here are just a few reasons why we should not take Harold Camping, FRN and their predictions seriously.

1. Family Radio has the makings of a cult; and Camping – the makings of a cult leader.

Some men like to label everyone who disagrees with them as a “heretic” or “false teacher.” I try my best to use such judgments sparingly. Harold Camping, I believe, has rightfully earned both titles. Furthermore, in Camping’s case, I am tempted to say that he may have even stepped over the line of heresy and into the realm of being a full-blown cult leader.

A quick run-down of cult characteristics support my suspicion:

  • Cults have astrong, dictatorial leader who refuses to be questioned. (Check!)
  • Cults are elitist and claim exclusive rights to the truth. (Check!)
  • Cults are often inordinately obsessed with the end times. (Check!)
  • Cults have an “us vs. them” mentality. (Check!)

The list goes on and on. Though they claim to be true believers, much of what is true of your run-of-the-mill cult, is also true of Camping and FRN.

If Camping is so far “out there”, you may be wondering, why would I even waste time writing about him? Believe it or not, the FRN broadcasts are heard by millions of people worldwide every week and his teachings are poisoning the minds of many sincere people.

We should not toss Camping and his teachings aside lightly. Rather, we should get rid of them with as much force as possible. Harold Camping, and Family Radio, should be avoided, condemned and exposed for what they truly are.

2. Camping has knowingly (and proudly) walked away from orthodox Christianity.

This recent set of predictions is not Camping’s first theological shenanigans. Since 1959, Camping has been filling the airwaves with his deep, gravelly voice and unmistakable radio presence. While he, admittedly, started out somewhat orthodox, Camping has drifted further and further away from mainline Christianity.

Most notably, in 2002, he self-published a document entitled, “The End of the Church Age…And After” in which he blatantly distanced himself from all Christian churches.

Camping started preaching that “the church age is now over.” He believes that every institutional church (all denominations) is apostate and should be vacated. Camping claims that God has taken away the task of world evangelization from the church and given it to (here is the best part…) “organizations like FRN.” (By the way, he has never mentioned any other groups than his own.) Camping says that believers should gather, informally, around their radios and listen to FRN and send their money.

To be clear: a person cannot love Jesus and, at the same time, despise His wife-to-be. Sure, the church is imperfect (our spotless, wrinkleless day awaits us) but she is still the blood-bought bride of Christ. She will be loved by all true believers. To turn your back on the church, in this fashion, is to turn your back on Christ.

3. Of those in the “Hall of Shame” for bad Bible predictions, Camping is a celebrity.

There have been a number of end times date-setters in church history. (Who remembers 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be In 1988?) In most such cases, these disappointed prophets either admit their mistake or just disappear – not Camping.

It would be easy to chock up Camping’s predictions to the confused rants of a senile man (Camping is 89); however, this May 21 prediction is not his first attempt at end times’ date setting. In 1992, Camping wrote a booklet entitled, 1994?, in which he stated that it was “highly likely” that Jesus will return in September 1994. Interestingly, in that work, he added a noteworthy caveat, stating, “the possibility does exist that I could be wrong.”

So far, though, Camping has yet to add a disclaimer to his May 21 prediction. It seems that Camping has now “gone all in” and is gambling his entire ministry and reputation that, this time, he is right.

Conclusion

In the end, I suspect that May 21 will come and go like any other day. If so, then yet another date-setter will have to face the plain teaching, “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matt 24:36).

In the end, one thing is clear: if the Lord does return on May 21, there will be many billions of people who will miss out. I am afraid that Camping may be among them. May he repent and return to the truth before it’s too late.